Reacting to The Athletic’s annual quarterback tiers, including Mac Jones’ spot
Every offseason, Mike Sando of The Athletic asks 50 coaches and executives around the NFL to rank quarterbacks in a tier-based manner. Tier 1 being the best quarterbacks and tier 5 being the worst or simply unproven of all starting or potentially starting play callers.
Some selections are not too surprising. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was selected as a unanimous tier-1 quarterback, and Mac Jones was the highest-ranked 2021 rookie. But there’s also some selections and opinions that are rather interesting.
Here’s a few that stood out:
Mac Jones: Tier 3, 18th overall
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) heads to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
For what Jones did in his rookie season with the New England Patriots, I think this is a very fair assessment. He’s right behind Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill and right in front of Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz.
Passing for 3,800 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions isn’t bad, but also isn’t great. Jones also didn’t have much around him, with Hunter Henry, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne being his top targets last season. A big concern for evaluators in the article was the help around Jones, and that Bill Belichick doesn’t have the time to properly develop Jones himself.
“We have been told his quarterback coach is Joe Judge, and I can’t name the last time he’s developed any quarterbacks,” a coach said in Sando’s article.
With all this being said, he was taken after four other quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, all of whom he ranked higher than on this list, with Trevor Lawrence being the closest at number 23. And at 23 years old, Jones has room to make his way into tier 2 and if everything falls right then even tier 1.
Matthew Stafford ranks above Russell Wilson
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 13: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates after Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.
Voters pegged both Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson in tier 2, with Stafford one spot ahead of Wilson at No. 7. Some may disagree with this, like the evaluators obviously did, but Wilson is the better quarterback.
If Wilson is in Stafford’s position last year with Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp and a really good football team, I think the Los Angeles Rams get the same result if not a better one, if that’s even possible. This past season was the best of Stafford’s career, and there’s no doubt as to why that is. There aren’t many better offensive systems – if any at all – than what McVay and the Rams have in place.
Wilson didn’t play great last season, but it falls more on the declining Seahawks offense rather than strictly Wilson. Look at Tom Brady’s last few years in New England compared to his first two with Tampa Bay. He had at least 40-plus passing touchdowns and 4,600 yards in both seasons with the Bucs. He hadn’t passed for at least 40 touchdowns since 2007 with the Patriots, and didn’t throw for more than 4,600 yards in his last four seasons in Foxboro.
The Denver Broncos don’t have the Buccaneers or Rams offense in place, but it’s surely an upgrade over what Wilson had in Seattle with an improved offensive line, two good running backs, and even though there’s no D.K. Metcalf, a deep receiving core.
Wilson behind Stafford was probably the second-most questionable call on this list.
Dak Prescott ranked behind Lamar Jackson
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 11: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts on the sidelines against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
This is undoubtedly the most questionable call from the voters on this list.
Dak Prescott was ranked number 11 while Lamar Jackson was 10, both quarterbacks are in tier two. This even comes from someone who is a fan of Jackson as a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but to place him over Prescott feels a little wacky.
“If [Jackson] has to pass to win the game, they ain’t winning the game,” a defensive coordinator said in Sando’s article.
No quarterback in the NFL has the same gift as Jackson does as a rusher, but in 12 games last season he had 2,882 passing yards and threw for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Prescott passed for 4,449 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season after coming back from a gruesome leg injury and dealing with a calf strain in the middle of the season.
There’s no debating Jackson has more talent and athleticism. But Prescott, who isn’t perfect by any means, is clearly the better passer. Not to mention that even though both quarterbacks are 1-3 in the postseason, Prescott has nine touchdowns and five turnovers compared to Jackson’s four touchdowns to five turnovers. Jackson is an awesome quarterback, just not better than Prescott.
Patriots may not be done cutting their losses from the 2019 draft
Of all the Patriots’ draft classes under Bill Belichick, the 2019 group may have been the most damaging.
“Headlining” the class of 2019 was now-infamous wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who barely made traction on the Patriots’ roster in three years. Harry had all the opportunity in the world to seize a major role in the Pats’ offense in his first two seasons, when the team was depleted at the position and essentially drafted him to plug that hole. And he played a lot in 2021, too … just mainly as a blocker. So it’s fair to wonder if Harry is capable of a regular role as an actual pass-catcher at the NFL level. He certainly wasn’t in New England.
The Patriots recently traded Harry to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 seventh-round pick, mercifully ending one of the most painful stints ever witnessed for a first-round pick in Foxboro. They also traded their 2019 third-round pick, linebacker Chase Winovich, to the Cleveland Browns for fellow LB Mack Wilson earlier in the off-season. Winovich has flashed some legitimate ability as a pass-rusher, so his departure seems more like a “culture fit” thing for the free-spirited, somewhat outspoken linebacker.
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The Pats may not be done there, when it comes to purging Gillette Stadium of the stink of 2019. Mike Reiss recapped the Patriots’ moves in a recent column at ESPN.com, and said that cornerback Joejuan Williams could be “the next to go.” Reiss also projects Williams as a “long shot” to make the 53-man roster in 2022.
New England originally drafted Williams with the 45th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Oh, and they traded up there to do it; they sent the 56th and 101st picks to the Rams for No. 45. So they targeted Williams, aggressively.
Unfortunately, Williams now represents the double-whammy with Harry, as perhaps the most disappointing 1-2 picks in Bill Belichick’s draft history. Whenever Williams showed up on TV screens in 2021, he was often getting burned by receivers down the field.
The Patriots drafted two cornerbacks in the 2022 draft, third-rounder Marcus Jones out of Houston and fourth-rounder Jack Jones out of Arizona State. Hopefully, Jack Jones turns out to be a much better Sun Devil than Harry was in the NFL. But either way, it appears that the Joejuan Williams Experience™ is about to end in New England.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 04: Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots is seen as they take on the Tennessee Titans in the first half of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ cornerback depth charts, as they stand on Monday, minus Williams…
The team entered the 2022 off-season with cornerback as arguably their position group with the biggest question mark attached to it. The ? only grew in size after J.C. Jackson agreed to a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Since then, they’ve signed Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell in free agency, and drafted the two Joneses. Shaun Wade remains on the roster as something of a wild card. Bethel is an excellent special teamer who provides depth and speed at the position, but ideally he never has to play defense.
Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (4) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
This is a long way of saying that Williams is likely gone. He already felt like the odd man out at cornerback, and his ultimate departure will only be the latest underlining of a draft class that has mostly been a disaster, at least if you give more weight to the first two picks (you should).
Fortunately, the Patriots landed an All-Pro-caliber punter in Jake Bailey that year. They also drafted running back Damien Harris, who has been their most productive pure runner over the past two seasons. But even he feels like he won’t be in New England much longer, as he enters the final year of his rookie deal with the Patriots having drafted three running backs over the past two years (Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris).
Williams’ status will be something to watch as the Patriots report to training camp this week in Foxboro. The first official day of camp is set for Wednesday morning and will be open to both the public and the media.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at email@example.com.